“Closet Philanthropy” brings meaning to cleaning out clutter

By Marty Wiggins

Guest Columnist

EDITOR’S NOTE:  “Give Well” is a weekly column written by Dawn Franks of Your Philanthropy, Kyle Penney of the East Texas Communities Foundation and representatives of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.

It's a well-known fact that Americans love their stuff.  We buy too much, we own too much and clutter creep is taking over our lives.  The average American home now contains more than 300,000 items, reports the Los Angeles Times.  And even as our houses steadily increase in size, one out of every ten Americans rents offsite storage.  According to Forbes, in 1930 the average American woman owned nine outfits.  Today that number is 30 – one for each day of the month.

With the back-to-school season now under way, it's a good time to take a good, hard look at what's in your closet.  Does it fit?  Have you worn it in the past three years?  Do you even like it?  Those questions can be helpful, but the real challenge is finding the motivation to begin closet clean-out.

I personally discovered my inspiration through this faith-based message:  If I'm not making the effort to donate clothing I don't need, then I am willfully withholding it from those less fortunate.  In other words, "closet philanthropy" is not just a kind gesture; it's part of a responsibility to help the poor among us.

Donating clothes and other household goods can easily be part of your annual giving plan.  But before you start clearing out the clutter, take steps to make your closet philanthropy a meaningful experience.  Start with research on the local organizations that accept used goods and find a cause that matches your charitable objectives.

For generations, both Goodwill Industries and The Salvation Army have turned used clothing into new lives.  The preparation of donated goods for the organizations' retail stores provides jobs and skills training for individuals with special needs.  These stores then supply low-cost goods to families with financial hardships, and ultimately, the retail revue fosters the agencies' overall missions.  That triple-play of good illustrates the power of closet philanthropy!

Some charities put donated clothes literally to work.  For example, Christian Women's Job Corps needs business attire for the women in their programs who will be participating in job interviews and entering the work force.  It’s a frightening process, but a new outfit helps provide confidence and a great first impression.  If your heart goes out to these women, donate your gently-used work clothes to this ministry or others like it.

Many diverse charitable organizations now provide resale stores to raise awareness, friends and funds in support of their outreach.  In our area, these include Habitat for Humanity, Bethesda Health Clinic, East Texas Crisis Center and The Hospice of East Texas, just to name a few.  Again, your research into giving opportunities will help you find the perfect match for your donation of clothing and other items.

This investigation also should include any specifications or restrictions regarding donations.  Always prepare clothing appropriately, first checking the pockets for money or other items.  Whenever possible, wash the clothes, fold or hang them and place them in suitable containers.

One resale shop I visited had a back room that contained "the mountain” – a gigantic pile of dirty, donated clothing that reached almost to the ceiling.  Would you want to be a volunteer who dons protective gloves to sort these clothes?  Be considerate of the charity and its paid or volunteer workforce.  If clothing has reached the end of its wearability, donate it to a program that recycles such products for other purposes.

Back to the beginning:  Most Americans have closets – even offsite storage units – filled with stuff.  Instead of bringing joy, these jammed closets can bring feelings of emptiness or frustration.  As bestselling author Gretchen Rubin contends in Happier at Home:  “Outer order contributes to inner calm.  In the span of a happy life, having a messy desk or an overflowing closet is clearly trivial, and yet creating order gives a disproportionate boost of energy and cheer.”

Are you a closet philanthropist?  I hope so!  By making the process meaningful, we can downsize our stuff to better match our values; create healthier, happier homes; and keep billions of pounds of clothing out of landfills.  Most importantly, we can connect a simple task to a larger purpose of giving well.

Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 Chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.  Join us on Sept. 9 for an educational luncheon on “Seven Habits of Highly Effective (and Charitable) Women.  Visit www.womensfundsc.org for details on Women’s Fund events and membership.

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